The return of the golden eagle
Britain’s golden eagle population has increased by 15% in little more than a decade. There are now 508 breeding pairs, all of them in Scotland: 66 more pairs than in 2003, when the last national survey was carried out – and enough, it is thought, to ensure the population’s long-term viability. The raptors – whose twometre wingspan makes them the UK’s secondlargest bird, after the white eagle – were once common across the UK, but had all but vanished from England and Wales by the mid 19th century, largely as a result of being killed by gamekeepers (the birds prey on grouse). Scotland’s golden eagle population was then hit by the use of organochlorine pesticides, which caused mass infertility among them.
There are fears that the golden eagles are still being shot, poisoned or trapped to protect grouse moors, but according to the RSPB, attitudes are becoming more “enlightenened”. The eagles – many of which are now satellite-tagged – have also benefited from there being more prey, including grouse and hares, on the hillsides as a result of reduced grazing by sheep and deer.
The eagles were once common in the UK